November 27, 2010

#SBL10 Highlights

Chronologically, natch:

First off, at ETS (the week before Thanksgiving week) Michael Licona spoke about his new book The Resurrection of Jesus:  A New Historiographical Approach.  I missed that session, unfortunately, but bought the book.  It's an absolute pleasure to read, and I'll probably blog more about that real soon.

Nick Perrin responded to Darrell Bock & Robert Webb about their IBR Jesus book, Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus, and about historiography and the gospels in general.  Among his other comments, Nick said that he'd like to see more constructive historical work and less defensiveness.  Amen, a thousand times, amen.

NT Wright and two other guys argued pleasantly for a few hours, Friday morning.  I came in for about 15 minutes near the end, and pretty much confirmed that the whole "Justification" debate is almost purely semantical.  As is becoming increasingly common, the reformed gentlemen aren't defending scripture, but their own reformation-based traditions.  ((Dear God, thank you for the increasingly post-denominational nature of present day Christendom.))

Also at ETS, I found a wonderful little book called HISTORY-ies and fallacies, by reformed blogger Carl Trueman (subtitle:  Problems Faced in the Writing of History).  I hadn't realized it, but Carl's a Church Historian, who apparently specializes in John Calvin.  Well, wonders never cease.  Considering the above paragraphs, however, I must wonder if Trueman considered that he's implicitly also defending our right to do [with the Gospels] that which his tradition would seem to prefer that we NOT do - namely, Writing History.

Ah well.  So much for ETS.  ;-)

The IBR meeting kicked off SBL Friday night with a message much discussed on other blogs.  (Check my reader.)  It was great.  In response, Mike Bird was very entertaining.  Personally, I think Wright's correct that conservatives these days largely miss the Kingdom in speaking, but I think we miss it in practice, far more.  I tried to press Tom & Mike to consider anachronism - how are we missing, in spoken rhetoric, that larger sense of the Kingdom which only recently became missing in practice?  But that night - as, probably, now - I wasn't able to express myself well enough to be understood.

At any rate, the main weakness of Tom's message was a lack of brass tacks.  Precisely what, Dr. Wright, are you proposing that we should actually do?  I don't think anyone knew.  And I suppose that's how Tom wants it... for now.

On Saturday, Amy-Jill Levine, discussing "nativity myth" in Matthew's Gospel, remarked that if the so-called Star of Bethlehem was anything, it was an angel.  An astronomical star could not only not lead them to a house, it could not stop above the house, or the whole thing would be incinerated.  (Not to mention the whole Earth along with it, surely.)

Personally, I'd sure love to hear more "IF" statements like that from A.-J.  I keep hoping SOMEONE who's genuinely skeptical of the Gospels could try on the faith hat apply reason to it.  I don't think their conclusions would be like anything we've seen before.  And I'd LOVE to see what they came up with, from that perspective.

On Sunday, A.-J. responded to Bock, Webb & Craig Keener in the session about whether 'conservatives' and 'liberals' can engage with one another in the Historical Jesus enterprise.  For context, I refer you to Derek Leman's write-up.  Personally, as much as I enjoyed this entire session, it left me completely uninterested in attending any further HJ sessions for the rest of the SBL conference.

On that note, I must say I'm skeptical about Derek's reported discovery the next morning:  "the willingness to suspend many issues of “proving history” and to recreate the story of Jesus as best possible given the sources, not overly worrying about criteria that supposedly make for more or less likely history."  That sounds like just what I'm after, but I'm not sure what D's referring to.  One particular paper?  Or the fact that John's Gospel is officially "in play" now, for critical scholarship.  (What was it, Derek?)

Anyway, still on Saturday, I moved on to rediscover why a room full of Classicists can be so mentally and emotionally bracing, when the topic is ancient history.  Erich Gruen expressed skepticism about Philo's claim that Caligula ordered all those statues to be sent towards Judea - could he really have been so naive?  In her response, Tessa Rajak confessed feeling a temptation to tell Eric "truth is stranger than fiction" and to leave it at that!

That one brief moment was the most memorable sound bite of the whole week.  She didn't leave it alone, of course.  One more reason I love sitting in on the Philo/Josephus group(s).

Sunday night was the Bibliobloggers' get together at Gibney's pub, and it was easily the social highlight of my week.  I saw several folks from last year's SBL, and met a few for the first time, including a Bird, a Barber, a Platypus, and an, uh, Aubrey.  Among others.  I also met some new (?) folks whose blogs I've not read yet (got to catch up!) But I can't figure out how Philip J. Long and I missed each other for a full week.  Oh.  Maybe because I decided to stick with Gospels and Classics, and Philip was probably in Acts & Epistles all week.  That could explain it.

This being my second Big Bible Rodeo, it was nice to have scholars like Ken Schenck & Chris Tilling give me genuinely warm smiles and just say, "Hey, Bill".  You know, like they know me.  (!)  And Michael Barber (don't hold this against him) said to a colleague, "Bill's done some good work."  Albeit bloggership isn't scholarship, but that was very gracious on Michael's part.  Encouraging, to say the least.  I should start doing some more...

Again, on Monday, another two or three dozen SBL bloggers ordered lunch in the Hyatt, after which most of us met up at the session on Blogging and Online Publication.  (For all the latest links, see McGrath, here.)  It was the first time I knew all five presenters personally, and - as Mark Goodacre also remarked - it was the first time I completely agreed with everything I'd heard from a panel.  Overall, an utterly delightful three hours.  (Yes, we ran long.  Go figure!)

I'm skipping plenty of other interesting bits from various sessions and personal meetings, of course.  But as promised, these are the highlights.  And somehow, for me personally, the best presentation of all happened to come in the last paper of the last session on the last day.

On Tuesday morning, Steve Mason talked about doing history from narrative in Josephus.  Using a test case from Josephus' War (2.499ff) about Cestius Gallus' retreat from Jerusalem (AD 66), Mason illustrated the difference between "High School History", and "Critical History", and... a third category he's promoting, the name of which I forget, but the practice of which I'm very eager to see advance.

Essentially, Mason suggested that arguing endlessly over historicity gets us nowhere, and stressed an emphasis on hypothetical reconstruction.  I can't hardly stand waiting for the book version to come out (2012?) so I can blog about it.  But I'll have to.  You'll still be reading me two years from now, I trust.  (!?!)

I also tweeted quite a few times from the conference, but sometimes forgot the hashtag.  To see it all, find me on Twitter.  Or Facebook.  Yes, you should be on Facebook.  So you can friend me.  :-)

That's all I've got.  I bought five other books that I may mention someday.  And I may have come to a decision or three that I'll blog about soon, as well.  However soon soon may be.  (Now's a great time to subscribe to this blog, so you don't miss a thing.)

Thanks for reading, dear reader.  But thanks most of all to my dear wife for giving me a week to go play in Scholarpalooza.  It was not only tons of fun, but I obviously learned a lot.  Like how even Biblical Scholars disagree on how to pronounce their own trademark terms.

She says:  Sep-TOO-a-gint?

He says:  SEP-twa-gint?

Let's call the whole thing off.  ;-)


Matthew Crowe said...

I missed ETS but my first trip to SBL this year was a blast. It was good to meet you at the Blogging and Online Publication session. I look forward to exploring your blog more in the future.

Anonymous said...

If I had know you were there I would have arranged to meet you someplace. I did follow Luke / Acts a bit, but I also lurked a bit in the NEAS meeting, there were two papers I needed to hear there.

Next year we'll make a time to meet. said...


What I meant was, I like to hear the results when people are willing to grant story a little more possibility of being history. All this "proving" stuff or only believing "assured" results is bogus (I'm sure you agree). History is story and the way we know is story and how it coheres with other stories we believe (I talk about this epistemology in my most recent book). So, I appreciated the John session for a different approach. The speakers, except one, actually considered the impact if we thought of Jihn as history. Now that was interesting. Especially Paul Anderson.


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